Autoimmune disease

At a glance

Defining the changes immune cells undergo to become active in Lupus

Lead researcher

Dr James Thaventhiran


Cambridge University


Awarded and preparing to start

Amount awarded


Last updated



Lupus is an autoimmune disease meaning the body’s immune system attacks its own healthy cells.

A common therapy for treating lupus targets important immune cells called B lymphocytes. Irregular B lymphocyte behaviour is an underlying cause of lupus and results in damage to the patient’s tissues. However, B lymphocytes are also vital for a healthy immune system, as they provide immunity against large pathogens such as bacteria and parasitic worms.

Dr Thaventhiran’s project was inspired by his work as a clinician treating patients with immunodeficiencies. He noticed that the leading cause of increased referrals to his clinic were patients with treatment-induced immunodeficiency. Specifically, lupus patients undergoing treatment targeting B lymphocytes.

B lymphocyte therapy targets all B cells non-specifically, meaning that both healthy and pathogenic immune cells are wiped out. This leaves patients susceptible to the infections B cells usually protect against.

Dr Thaventhiran will investigate the progression of B lymphocytes from a healthy to a pathogenic state in order to identify what distinguishes these two cell types. Improving understanding of the disease mechanisms underpinning lupus will help to identify new drug targets.

Ultimately, this work aims to identify novel treatments that will specifically target pathogenic B lymphocytes present in lupus patients, whilst leaving healthy B cells unharmed.

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Autoimmune disease - Lupus

  • Why is there a need to fund new research?

    Lupus is a poorly understood autoimmune disease with limited treatment options.

    Despite several known triggers of lupus, the exact cause of the disease is unknown and there is currently no full cure.

    Living with lupus can be extremely challenging. 65 per cent of lupus sufferers report dealing with pain as the most difficult aspect of managing the disease. Early intervention can improve management of lupus, however the lack of understanding surrounding lupus contributes to delays in diagnosis. Current research estimates it takes over six years to be correctly diagnosed.

    There is a high clinical need to better our understanding of the disease and improve treatment options and outcomes for patients.

    The Foundation is delighted to have committed over £1 million to lupus research and contribute to changing the lives of those with lupus.

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